Circe: The untold story.
One of the things I enjoyed about the book was that the author doesn’t shy away from the legend, from what we know about Circe. Rather she craftily shows us why Circe is the way she is.
“When I was born, the word for what I was did not exist.”
― Madeline Miller, Circe
From the first sentence, this story draws us in. Written from the perspective of Circe herself, it allows us to have a glimpse into the life of one of Greek mythology’s famous witches. Those who have had any interest in Greek Mythology would be acquainted with the name Circe. The infamous enchantress, who trapped Odysseus on her island for a year. The evil witch who seduced sailors and turned them into pigs. So when I picked up the book “Circe” I had a little doubt regarding what new story there would be to learn from this book. Madeline Miller does an amazing job at showing us the unknown parts of Circe’s life. I had expected the story to be apologetic for all the evil that Circe is supposed to have done. Surprisingly enough, the book doesn’t stray from its original path, Circe is definitely a witch. She is the daughter of Helios and a nymph.
Her story begins at her birth, where her parents are disappointed that she looks like a mortal. For thousands of years, she roams around in the halls of her father’s palace with no one paying any attention to her. Eventually, she then realizes she could do some magic with plants. ‘Witch’ they called her. They punished her for being powerful enough. Soon she is sent to exile on the island Aeaea. The exile was probably the best thing to happen to Circe because it frees her from her bullying family, cruel siblings, and her uncaring parents. It gives her a real home. Even though she is alone, no one is trying to hurt her.
“You threw me to the crows, but it turns out I prefer them to you.”
― Madeline Miller, Circe
One of the things I enjoyed about the book was that the author doesn’t shy away from the legend, from what we know about Circe. Rather she craftily shows us why Circe is the way she is. Circe was often depicted as a young maiden with beautiful braided hair, a cup of herbs, and sometimes a sword. In Miller’s version, Circe doesn’t tie braid her hair to look pretty, she doesn’t carry around a cup and a sword for vanity, rather it is a necessity. The long hair is caught in the wilderness of the island as she tries to collect more herbs and has to be tied up. She often mentions that she has to crush, cut or juice whatever she plucks right away: hence the cup and the sword/ knife. She was supposed to be the evil witch who seduced honorable sailors and turned them into pigs. Here she turns them into pigs in defense. Circe is well aware of how the poets in her own time see her. She mentions how she was made into a villain while they told the story of other heroes.
“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”
― Madeline Miller, Circe
At one point she realizes she is happy about living in exile because she has made herself at home and she decides that this was enough. She thinks to herself, she could be a witch, go on with her life and be happy. At the same time, she also realizes: “A golden cage is still a cage.” This is the tale of a woman’s quest for freedom, she takes a lifetime to achieve it, but it is her story. While the Circe we are all familiar with may have been famous because of Odysseus, here he isn’t even a major part of her life. Just one tiny part of her life which was thousands and thousands of years long. Circe is also a poster child for the single mother when she who was abandoned on an island has to enter motherhood alone. It doesn’t go easy on her, but she is used to her life being difficult. Not once does she complain, not once does she beg the Gods who have abandoned her. She doesn’t complain because she knows there’s no use, no one to listen to. She doesn’t beg or pray to the numerous Gods because she knows they will only enjoy her plight. I couldn’t help but think of all the single mothers shunned by society, still never complaining, working two jobs, and taking care of tiny little ones. Never asking for help because, some will enjoy their misery, yet others will utilize their situation.
Reading this book was like watching a painting being painted. As I read on I could see the island bloom around me. It took me to Aeaea, the wild island with moly and nightshade. I read on as Circe weaved tapestries, I could see them too, with the golden threads and seamless silk beauty. This may not be a thriller or a mystery, it is indeed a story we all know. But give this book a chance, it will tell you her untold story. Give this book a chance it will transport you to the shores of ancient Greece. It will leave you with questions and thoughts. In the end, it reminded me that women associated with powerful men are not mere tools or one-dimensional characters whose sole purpose is to help the powerful men rather, they have fulfilling lives, opinions, struggles, a whole life of their own. They are often overlooked, cast away into the shadows, erased from history, swept under the rug, and never looked at twice. We often forget that they are heroes in their own right.